Changes are Needed for Seniors Living Alone

Changes are Needed for Seniors Living Alone– OTTITI- habitation, hebergement services

Recently, I attended the funeral of a senior who was living alone in the community and died alone in the community. If it wasn’t for an adult child and a friend expressing some concern because she did not answer her phone or return messages, she did not answer her door, and there were papers outside her door; no one would have known that she died. She lived independently.

As a case manager, to learn of this is very sad. No one should die alone and certainly not in this way. The exact causes of death are unknown; the length of time she lay dead on her floor are unknown.

As a professional and as an adult child, I certainly do not want this scenario for my clients or for my parents. In the modern world, it is quite normal for adult children to live out of town. They go where the jobs are, where their spouses or partners are. This leaves many seniors alone in the community.

Many older adults choose to be alone and limit contact with friends, neighbors, community, and others, including their own family. While they may be cognizant to choose this option, as a professional while at the same time I want to honour their independence and ability to make their own choices, I have difficulty with it. I am sure I am not the only one. I did not make the choice to be a social worker/case manager lightly. I chose the profession because it fits with who I am and with my values. I do my best to live up to the ethics and value of the profession. At the same time I need to honour the values and choices of my clients, their right to self-determination and support them in doing so; even if I do not agree with their choice. There is the fundamental right of all persons to determine their own best interest. While self-determination can be compromised by the interest of the collective, a delicate balance is required between these two concerns. (1)

On the other hand, if a senior is living in an apartment building, independent living facility or assisted living facility, should the management or staff check on their tenants/residents? Whether it is part of their mandate or not, if a senior has not been seen in awhile, does not answer their door or their phone-should the management be concerned? Should a janitor or ‘super’ be available on the weekends and after hours in case a family member, resident or neighbor is concerned?

Part of me says yes and part of me says no. The emotional part says yes while the realistic part says no. Independent living is just that, independent. Assisted living and senior residences are very different living situations. Unfortunately, as the population continues to age and there are more seniors than youth, this will become the reality. Adult children live out of town and seniors are often alone and they rely on professionals and community.

There are choices available should a senior or an adult child(ren) be interested-hiring a private geriatric case or care manager, connecting with a CLSC (local community service centres) in Quebec, Community Care Access Center (CCAC) in Ontario or Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) in B.C. (as examples); basically a government run clinic that provides social workers, nurses, physicians, and other professionals. Neighbors, friends, PAB, and home care workers can also be valuable resources. Any of them can be the local contact when a senior is alone and adult children are out of town. They may be the only contact.

Should a community, clinic, neighborhood, friend or family member be available, check on and be in contact with seniors? Should more be done? Should community be reaching out more to the lonely older adult? How does a concerned neighbor, friend or family member make community aware of the situation? How does one go about hiring a professional privately to keep an eye on their parent? What resources are available?

There are many individuals who are private geriatric care and case managers; as well there are many local public and private resources re: clinics and community agencies to choose from for this role. This is certainly an area that will expand in the coming years as the population continues to age.



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1 thought on “Changes are Needed for Seniors Living Alone”

  1. Great article. And we do walk a very fine line between granting independence and taking responsibility. Am I my mother’s, father’s or neighbour’s keeper? Even when she/he doesn’t want me to be? This dialogue is an important one to have, and on both the familial and societal levels.

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